Showing posts with label mining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mining. Show all posts

October 31, 2018

A Coal Camp Ghost in Southern Colorado

Ruins of coke ovens at Cokedale. Coke is made by heating soft coal in an airless atmosphere,
so it is to coal as charcoal is to wood, sort of.
Today is Halloween, which means that newspaper editors are open to ghost-hunting stories.
In this case the ghosts are in a southern Colorado coal camp. The most infamous of those was Ludlow, the company-owned coal-mining town forever associated with the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914.

This ghost-hunting, however, takes place in nearby Cokedale (not to be confused with Coaldale, which is on the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida).
For the past several months, Light in the Dark Paranormal — a local group that specializes in ghost towns and mining sites — has focused its investigative efforts on the Cokedale Mining Museum, a onetime company store located in the heart of the former coal mining camp west of Trinidad.

These investigations, Paul Hill said, were prompted by reports of unusual activity from museum staff and even Cokedale's town clerk.
Cokedale's mining musuem.
"We conducted an initial investigation back in February," said Hill, joined by his wife Adrian and Louise Bosche in Light in the Dark Paranormal.
"And we discovered, quite readily and easily in a short time, quite a bit of evidence."

Evidence, Hill said, that included an antique wooden wire cutter mysteriously spinning around and Maglights turning on in response to questions.

That's all well and good. But I wonder if they would have the cojones to go ghost-hunting at Ludlow. Occasionally I visit the monument where the strikers died — the last time was in September — but I go only in the daytime, and the place gets under my skin even then.

July 02, 2017

Mining Camp Medicine, from a Plain-Spoken Memoir

From The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis (1875–1938), first published in 1929:
When anyone fell sick, the first medicine was whiskey, then came quinine and camphor (this camphor prepared at home from the gum and whiskey); then turpentine. One was pretty far gone when one or all of these did not bring him out of it! There was also a good deal of virtue in a chew of tobacco bound on a sore place. I have had many a chew on a cracked toe. Fresh cow manure was also considered good for this, leaving such a white place! For babies with bowel trouble Mama [a "born doctor"] fixed brown flour of which I would steal nibbles, and if this did not help, rose-root tea would, and I would be the one to dig the roots. She was always brewing sage* tea for some tenderfoot, who was getting "climated." Then there was Oregon grape root, brewed with rock candy, supposed to be fine for the kidneys, when juniper and a lot of whiskey were added to it. I have known men in Denver to send to us for the roots, supplying their own whiskey.
Compared to the "Little House" books, Anne Ellis's memoir of childhood and marriages in Colorado mining towns of the 1880s and 1890s (among others, Querida, Bonanza, Coal Creek, and Victor), is relatively un-prettified.  Daughter and wife of hard-rock miners, she grows up accustomed to swings between good times and bad, mixed with sudden moves to some other place which everyone knows will be a "sure thing."

Its publication in 1929 meant that it could not be completely unvarnished, but you do pick up some of the slang of the times. When the young miners from Bonanza went to Salida to "get their teeth fixed," the operations took place after dark at a house on Front Street and did not involve dentistry. 

This book had a sequel, Plain Anne Ellis, which I might have to find. (Martha Quillen at Colorado Central reviewed her third and final memoir, Sunshine Preferred and liked it less.)

* I assume this was Artemisia, not Salvia.

April 30, 2015

Colorado Ghost Towns You Never Saw?

How to write a clickbait title: "Five Colorado Ghost Towns You Probably Never Knew Existed."

Except that one of them is St. Elmo, which even has highway signage. Hasn't everyone in central Colorado been to St. Elmo?

So let's call this "Four Colorado Ghost Towns . . . and St. Elmo."

I give the Gazette credit for mentioning "coal towns abandoned when the coal, or need for it ran out," but the "coal camps" never make it into the books. (Sandra Dallas, I'm looking at you.)

Coal is dirty? Too many coal miners spoke Italian or Slovenian? 

How about a hashtag, Twitter users? #coalcampsmatter

April 20, 2014

100 Years Ago Today: The Ludlow Massacre and its Aftermath.

Funeral procession of miners' leader, Louis Tikas, in Trinidad, April 27, 1914 (Denver Public Library)

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the actual Ludlow Massacre, but the ambushes, gunfights, dynamitings, etc. started beforehand and continued for about ten days afterwards.

From the accounts  that I have read, the spokesman for the striking miners at Ludlow, Louis Tikas, was himself killed by Colorado National Guardsmen, no doubt "while trying to escape." He was born Ilias Anastasios Spantidakis in Crete.
Louis Tikas

I always heard—and this may just be urban legend—that the legacy of Ludlow is why there are no infantry units in the Colorado National Guard. I don't necessarily accept that as fact, but it is interesting as folklore.

Colorado Life magazine has a good article in their March/April 2014 issue, which can be ordered here.

Here is one summary from the official Ludlow Centennial website:
At the height of this conflict, on the morning of April 20, 1914, a skirmish broke out between striking miners and the Colorado State militia. This event, labeled the Ludlow Massacre, ended with the deaths of over 20 people, which included a guardsman, miners, and their wives and children. The death of children at the Ludlow Tent Colony thrust the Coalfield War into the media spotlight, with national scrutiny focused on the Rockefellers, who were majority shareholders in [the Pueblo steel mill and its mines] CF & I [Colorado Fuel & Iron]. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Rockefellers and CF & I developed an employee representation plan that transformed industrial worker-company relations.
Stop by some time — Exit 27 from Interstate 25 north of Trinidad — and walk the ground.

But the fact is, even in Pueblo, not to mention the Denver-plex, 4/20 means something else these days.

April 18, 2014

Taking the Hitchhikers to Ludlow

Ludlow Massacre monument (Wikipedia)
It was a summer day in the mid-1970s and I was driving my ten-year-old Ford pickup down Interstate 25, heading back from Denver to my summer construction job in Taos. (I had gotten a couple of days off; there was a lady involved.)

In my denim clothes and straw hat, I was feeling all southern-Colorado-native-ish, being about 20 years old and preoccupied with questions of authenticity and roots, even though — or because — for eight months a year I was also a student at a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. (The old pickup had Oregon plates, even while I carried a New Mexico driver's license.)

Then I saw them: two young guys hitchhiking on the south edge of Pueblo, and I figured to pick them up before some cop got after them for being on the interstate. They were from New Jersey, as I recall, going to Santa Fe — and I could get them closer.

We went down the road, talking about their journey West, etc., and to them I was just this guy from Taos with a faint northern-New Mexico accent (courtesy of the crew I was working with). And I decided that they should see Ludlow as part of their Western experience.

We took the lonely exit, bumped over the railroad tracks and past the United Mine Workers billboard over a little rise to the memorial: the statues, the picnic ground, the plaques.

I did not have to play history guide: the story is there.

And now my memory breaks down.

Did I make up some story to leave them out there on the prairie between Trinidad and Walsenburg?

The quickest way to Taos would have been US 160 west over La Veta Pass, then south. But to get there from Ludlow I would have had to drive back north to Walsenburg first.

And I have a memory of coming down the west side of La Veta Pass, getting panicky because the oil pressure light started flickering— worrying that the oil pump was failing (they rarely do). And driving south through San Luis and Questa, heart in mouth, not wanting to break down, only to learn later that it was merely the sending unit going bad that caused the warning light to flicker.

Or was the whole experience an example of road-hypnosis hallucination? I've had several of those over the years.

To be continued.

January 09, 2013

Blog Stew with the Dutchman

• In Arizona, the Lost Dutchman Mine claims another seeker after riches.

Camouflage for your house — if you like Mossy Oak brand. Might it work in Gambel oak? 

• I don't watch cable TV outdoor shows — don't have a satellite dish —so I do not know Trent Barta from Adam. But I have to admire his grit.
 "He went from this super-abrasive, 'I-don't-need-anybody, I-just-want- to-kill-something' man's man to somebody who really wants to stop and smell the roses," says Danny Kirsic, the videographer who has directed Versus filming for all seven years of Barta's show. "He lives larger now than he ever did. He asks for help. He's not an island anymore. He knows now that it takes a village. I like the new Tred."

April 16, 2012

Flume-Building, Victorian Style

Drive along Colorado 141 in the red rock country of far southwestern Colorado, and you will see what is left of the "hanging flume," originally a ten-mile long wooden trough built high on a canyon wall, part of a hydraulic-mining operation from the 1890s.

The Denver Post describes how carpenters, engineers, industrial riggers, and other volunteers have rebuilt a portion of it as a sort of experiential industrial archaeology project.
But as was done in another era, they use ropes to ease 200-pound ponderosa pine frame pieces and rough-sawn planks over a cliff face to two men balanced on bits of antique wooden braces 100 feet down the red-sandstone wall. Those men, who rappelled to their spots, fit the unwieldy pieces into what shapes up to be a 6-foot-wide and 4-foot-high wooden trough. The trough is perched on the original wooden braces that look like a long line of number 7s pinned with iron supports into the rock.
Good photos at the link.

Maybe it's just the reporter's style, but how big is the "mystery" here? It's not like we're talking about how they build the pyramids of Egypt or moved the stones for Stonehenge. This was just great-grandad's generation, albeit with hemp ropes, no portable power tools, no hard hats, and at most hobnailed boots for safety gear.

October 31, 2011

Some Colorado Springs Ghosts—and the Unquiet Ghosts of Teller County

Western Federation of Miners hall, Victor,1903.
A Colorado Springs blogger offers some ghost stories, mostly from the West Side.

In my young newspaper reporter days, I did my part for Cripple Creek and Victor.

At the time, I was covering both the gold-mining boomlet of the early 1980s and also some Colorado labor history, such as the activities of the Western Federation of Miners in the early 1900s.

They did not make it into the book, but I had a couple of woo-woo experiences in Cripple Creek and in the nearby ghost town of Goldfield of my own.

In one of them, I was walking into faded glory of the 1904 Teller County Courthouse to cover a hearing about leakage from a cyanide heap-leaching operation killing some horses. Just ordinary reportorial stuff.

I had never entered that building before. At the foot of the staircase leading up to the courtrooms, I almost had a panic attack. I was sure that I was walking up to my doom — but I wasn't "me."


In the second, I was leaving Victor and decided to drive through the site of the mining town of Goldfield, "a strong union town," instead of back via Cripple Creek on the way to Colorado Springs and the newspaper office.

The scene out the windshield was 1980 or 1981 Goldfield, which is to say, not much.  But to my ears and inner senses, it was all shouting and turbulence and emotion of the 1894 miners' strike, when the Cripple Creek police shot down the Goldfield constables, mines were dynamited, the militia was called out, and gunfights flared between miners and sheriff's deputies back by the mine owners.

It was like being in two places at once, one foot in the past and one foot in the now. The experience lasted less than minute but left me feeling emotionally exhausted.

That strike was just the beginning of the Colorado Labor Wars, when things got even worse.

Bad times—more or less swept under the rug of history now. Now we hear only of a street vendor selling  "hot waffles to miners, railroad passengers and barflies."

November 06, 2010

Western Colorado is Burning--Underground

Wildfire Today links to an interesting piece on western Colorado coal fires that burn for decades. I did not realize that there were so many in southwestern Colorado. It's the sort of thing that I associate with, say, Pennsylvania.

October 03, 2010

The Mill at the Camp Bird Mine, 1940 and 2010


Photo by Russell Lee, 1940, for Farm Security Administration

The Camp Bird Mill above Ouray, Colorado, from a series of color photos of American life that nowadays cause people to react, "How slim they were! How dignified!" Yeah, what about that?

That building is gone, but the tailings pile remains (below), helping to give the Uncompahgre River its uniquely milky-green toxic appearance.

July 13, 2009

October 06, 2007

Theodore Cockerell and the Cowboy Mythos

After reading the letters of English naturalist Theodore D.A. Cockerell, written from the Wet Mountain Valley in 1887-1889 to his girlfriend and her brother back home, I have come to a conclusion. This hard-working natural scientist perhaps shaped the way that Custer County thinks about itself.

When Cockerell arrived, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff were full of miners. On his arrival, he mentions going to Silver Cliff to see the mines.

I was much interested. They find silver here usually in the form of chloride, which is a sort of olive-green, but also, more rarely, they get it native.

And so on for a long paragraph. True, the silver-mining boom had crested when he arrived:

Silver Cliff is the principal place in the district for silver mining, and some years ago when the silver was first discovered there as a great rush for the mines and about 15,000 people were in the place at one time, but mining was not the success they expected, and very soon what promised to become a big town dwindled down to its present proportions--a small and insignificant village.

(Cockerell put Silver Cliff's population at 1,000 and Westcliffe's at 500.)

He lived part of the time at the home of an Anglo-Irish ranching family, the Cusacks, whose property is now a guest ranch, The Pines.

But mining still was going on. At one point, Cockerell thinks he has landed a clerk's job at a mine in Rosita, but due to cash-flow problems, the offer is withdrawn, and he stays with the ranchers.

There he writes quite a few observations about stockmen and cowboys--observations still quoted today--and ignores the mining industry, being more interested in entomology than geology.

Every year in September the Wet Mountain Western Days celebrates the cowboy mythos in all the usual ways. You won't find any single-jack drilling contests or prospector's burro race here. Yet which industry really built the county more?

August 23, 2007

Cripple Creek, Zombie Town

Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek, ColoradoBustling Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek's gambling street, on a sunny summer day.

In the early 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, I spent a lot of time in the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor, on the ghosts-and-gold mining beat. Then in the early 1980s Cripple Creek (but not Victor) got casino gambling, along with Blackhawk and Central City.

(I worked six months once in another state as a slot-machine tech, so I must have been inoculated against the charms of playing them.)

M. and I don't go there much now. For one thing, we moved, and what was then a one-hour trip now takes more like two and a half.

Before the gambling, Cripple Creek was gift shops and lazy antiques shops and bars and the melodrama. There were always the visiting bikers, the miners and former miners and wannabe miners, and the young actors from the melodrama, plus a sprinkling of summer people and a few town "characters." The town was living in the past, but some people liked it that way.

Now it's Zombie Town. The Rambin' Express bus pulls up, disgorges a bunch of retirees, and they go into darkened rooms where lights flash and electronic music that sounds like Eighties video arcade games plays over and over and over. (One of these days someone will prove that that combination accelerates Alzheimer's disease.)

Reno it's not. We heard two couples chuckling over a sign outside one casino promising "Free burgers at your [slot] machine."

Not drinks, burgers. You're not in Atlantic City either.

There is not much to do for families when every doorway says "No one under 21 admitted." They could ride the historic tourist train, I suppose.

Over in Victor, always the workingman's town, not so much as changed. White-hard-hat management types stroll in and out of the AngloGold mining office -- the action is at their huge open pit mine that swallowed up the old Cresson mine, which now exists only in the negative space of memory. The associated gigantic cyanide leach pad (a flat-topped mountain of crushed ore) perches ominously at the headwaters of Eightmile Creek.

In Victor they're drinking beer on the sidewalk, selling antiques in a half-serious way, and waiting for the next big thing. Zeke's Bar has moved into a larger space but the Gold Coin bar disappeared in a spasm of gentrification that seems to have abated. The past is always just around the red-brick corner at the end of the street.